A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about lizards

Of iguanas, sea lions and other beasts

Ecuador days ten to seventeen


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Animals of the Galápagos

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Land iguana on North Seymour

The Galápagos Islands are located 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast in the Pacific Ocean. There are 14 large islands and 120 smaller islets and rocks. Their isolation from any other place has resulted in the evolution of many unique species of flora and fauna, endemic to the archipelago or even to just one island within it.

The islands have been formed through volcanic activity, due to a “hot spot” just the west of the group (under Fernandina). Eruptions here cause an island to form from the lava and rock emitted from beneath the sea bed. But rather than create one ever-growing island, made larger by each new eruption, the slow south-eastward movement of the tectonic plate on which they sit means that by the time of a subsequent eruption the island created by the previous one is some miles to the east, and instead a new one forms. Thus each island is on a slow journey south and east (moving at a rate of seven cm/year); those furthest on that journey, such as San Cristobal and Espanola, are the oldest, and those in the west, such as Fernandina and Isabela, much younger (in geological terms).

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Colours of the Galápagos - Isla Santiago and Isla Rabida

A keen geologist will be fascinated by the details, but for the rest of us the attraction lies in the vivid scenery that results from all this activity, and for me, above all the colours. A jumble of black lava boulders, the backdrop to a white coral beach. Or a black lava beach washed by a turquoise sea. Or again, on Rabida, dark red cliffs with dusty green opuntia clinging to them.

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Giant tortoise

And this dramatic scenery is the set for a multitude of living dramas, as the various animal species play out their lives under the gaze of mesmerised visitors. For the islands’ isolation has not only led to the large number of endemic species being present, but also to their tame and inquisitive nature. The Galápagos were never attached to any continent and the island chain's remote location made it impossible for large land mammals that usually dominate the food chain to make the journey to the here. The giant tortoise became the dominate animal on the land, and he is a herbivore, so no threat to the others. With this lack of natural predators, the wildlife of the Galápagos thrived in an Eden-like environment and never learned to be fearful of other species – even our own. Meeting these animals and interacting with them in their own environment is the true joy of a Galápagos holiday, so this blog entry is devoted to a description of the main ones we saw on a lot of the islands, while more about the most memorable of these encounters will follow in future entries describing the individual islands we visited.

Galápagos sea lion

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Sea lions at Gardner Bay, Isla Espanola

The first animals to greet us on almost every island were the sea lions. And I do mean “greet”. It often seemed that they had been lolling around on the beach or even the landing jetty just waiting for our arrival! This isn’t a scientific distinction, but for me they fell into four groups – adorable pups, languid and photogenic females, lively bachelor males, and the occasional bolshie alpha male throwing his weight about. The latter are best avoided, but all the others will allow you to come pretty close, and will often come closer still to you.

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Seal lion pup, North Seymour

The Galápagos sea lion is a distinct species, but closely related to the California sea lion. They are found on all the islands and number in the ten thousands. The females usually have just the one pup a year, though Fabian said twins are not unusual and he has once seen triplets! We saw several newborn pups, for example on Sombrero Chino and Española. The babies are nursed by their mother for about six months until old enough to fish for themselves, and most of those we saw were still at this stage, so stayed quite close to mum. Some were more adventurous though and were venturing along the beach or across the rocks. One such followed a few of us for some time at Gardenr Bay on Española, apparently mistaking us for family – so cute!

In addition to these large nursery groups we saw several of bachelor males (including on Isla Rabida and South Plaza). Male Sea Lions sometimes retreat to these so-called bachelor colonies to take a rest from the aggro of the alpha male. Once refreshed they may try themselves to take on one of the latter and to try to establish their own beach territory with several females, which they will then have to defend continuously from other bulls. These fights take their toll – most alpha males we saw were battle-scarred, and Fabian told us that their reign is often short (sometimes only a few weeks) as they grow weaker with each fight and are then more easily vanquished.

Galápagos fur seal

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Fur seal, Isla Genovesa

In addition to the Galápagos sea lions, which are everywhere in the islands, there are a smaller number of Galápagos fur seals. These too are an endemic species, and live mainly on the rockiest shores. They are smaller than the sea lions, and their fur made them a target for poachers in the past, although they are of course now protected and their numbers are growing again. They live in the greatest numbers in the western islands, Fernandina and Isabela, which we didn’t visit. They also tend to be shyer than their cousins! But although we weren’t lucky enough to see any while on any of the islands, we did see some on a couple of our panga rides, most notably off Genovesa when on our way to the dry landing at Prince Philip Steps.

The sea was quite rough here and it was difficult to hold the camera steady, so my photos were not as clear as I would have liked, but they do show the thick fur and distinctive whiskers.

Fur seals are part of the same “eared seals” family as sea lions, and differ from true seals in having small external ear-flaps. Their hind flippers can be turned to face forwards, and, together with strong front flippers, this gives them extra mobility on land – an adult fur seal can move extremely quickly if it has to. They also use their front flippers for swimming, whereas true seals use their hind flippers. Their scientific name is Arctocephalus, which comes from Greek words meaning “bear headed”, and it’s easy to see how they got this name.

Land iguanas

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Land iguana on Plaza Sur

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Land iguana eating opuntia ,
North Seymour

One of the largest animals you can see in the Galápagos are the land iguanas, which on some islands can reach over a metre in length. There are actually two species to be found here – Conolophus subcristatus on six of the islands, and Conolophus pallidus only on Santa Fe. The latter is often a paler yellow than the main species (hence the name, “pallidus”), and has more spines on its back. Charles Darwin described the land iguanas as “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” however I have to say that I disagree with the famous naturalist, as I found them sort of cute, although probably only their mothers would find them beautiful!

All the marine and land iguana species in the Galápagos are thought to be descendants of a single species, the green iguana, which is native on the South American continent. Arriving probably on vegetation rafts to the isles, the green iguana, in order to survive, had to adapt to a new and different environment by evolving into two very distinct new species.

One of these, the land iguana, adapted to feed on the vegetation of the islands. Surprisingly perhaps, they prefer the prickly pear cactus or opuntia. This in turn has evolved, growing much taller than elsewhere in the world to be out of reach of the iguanas, but the latter simply stand on their hind legs to reach the pads and fruit. They have a leathery, tough tongue and don't need to remove the spines from the cactus before eating. The cactus forms about 80% of their diet and ensures that they get plenty of water even in the arid dry season such as when we visited.

Marine iguanas

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Marine iguana on Isla Espanola

The other main species of iguana that you will see on many of the islands are the marine iguanas, of which there are in fact seven sub-species, varying in size and colour. Most are black or dark grey but some have red colouring too, most notably on Española where the males have not only red but often green colouring too, which becomes brighter during the mating season – giving them the nickname of Christmas iguana!

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Marine iguanas,
Isla San Salvador

When the green iguana arrived here, some found themselves on islands where vegetation was sparse, and turned, through necessity, to the plant-life beneath the sea, and thus became the world's only sea-going lizard. They have developed a flattened snout and sharp teeth in order to feed on the algae on the underwater rocks. Their tail is flattened vertically like a rudder to help them swim and they have long claws to grip the rocks while feeding so that they don’t drift away.

Marine iguanas can stay submerged for up to ten minutes, before having to come up for air. When not feeding they are usually found sunning themselves on lava rocks, often in large groups and, as we saw in several places, even piled up on top of one another! Sometimes you will see them appear to sneeze, but in fact they are snorting to get rid of any excess sea salt with the help of special glands in their nostrils.

Lava lizards

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Lava lizard, Isla Espanola

The smallest of the reptiles we saw regularly on the islands were the lava lizards. There are seven species, and there is only ever one species on each island. All but the Galápagos Lava Lizard is found only on the island whose name they bear, whereas the former is found on many islands.

Lava lizards are smaller than the iguanas but nevertheless can grow to up to 30 cm in length (males – females are shorter), although the average is considerably less than that. They are found on all the major islands apart from Genovesa, and are the most abundant reptile on the islands. In all the species the females tend to be more colourful, with a red throat, but on Española the whole head is often bright red. Only the males have spines along their backs, and their colouring and patterns vary quite a bit between species, according to the landscape and environment of the islands, as they have evolved to blend in with their surroundings. They don’t blend in that well however!

Sally Lightfoot crabs

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Sally Lightfoot crabs, Isla San Salvador

These distinctive crabs can be seen all over the Galápagos, especially on the dark lava rocks, and they really catch the eye with their vivid orange and blue colouring. They are not endemic to the islands, being also found all along the Pacific coast of South and Central America. Nevertheless they seem to be one of the animals most associated with the Galápagos.

They are quite large (adults can grow to about 20 cm) and really stand out against those dark rocks, so you will spot them easily. They are harder to photograph than some of the other animals though, as they can move quite quickly at times. If you spot one that appears to be blowing bubbles from under the shell, as in my second photo, it’s an indication that it will soon be discarding its shell. The crabs have to do this periodically as they grow, because the shell doesn’t grow with them and becomes too small. So they shed the old shell and then have to stay in a sheltered, hidden spot such as a crevice in the rocks until the soft new one beneath it, now exposed, can harden. During this time they are very vulnerable and would make a tasty meal for a sea bird, hence the need to hide.

Also known more prosaically as red rock crabs, these are among the most beautiful of crabs. The colour can vary but is always bright, although the young are dark brown (for camouflage on the rocks). John Steinbeck, one of my favourite authors, wrote about them:

everyone who has seen them has been delighted with them. The very name they are called by reflects the delight of the name. These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes. ... They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in a puff of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colours, red and blues and warm browns.

Sea turtles

As well as all the wildlife on the islands and in the air above, there is lots to see in the surrounding waters. You will some marine life from the boat and panga, but to see it at its best it is necessary to get into the sea with them – I loved our snorkelling sessions here.

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Sea turtle, Isla Espanola

The Galápagos Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas agassisi) is a subspecies of the Pacific Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), and is the only turtle to breed on the islands. Nesting is between the months of December and June, and we were there in November – too early, although Fabian did point out one nest on the beach of Bartolomé, where we also saw a turtle swimming in the sea very close to the shore, his head poked above the waves. We saw several on our last morning too, on a panga ride in Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz. But the best place to see them is, as I said, in the water. There were several at our snorkelling site off the beach of Santiago, while my clearest encounter was in Gardner Bay, Española.

The Pacific Green Sea Turtle is listed as an endangered species and is protected from exploitation in most countries, including Ecuador. The Galapagos National Park authorities close certain beaches in the islands when it is nesting season for the Green Sea Turtles to protect the nests from tourist activity. However, the turtles are still in danger because of several human practices. Water pollution indirectly harms them as it threatens their food supplies, and many green sea turtles die caught in fishing nets. If you do find yourself on a beach with a turtle nest, as we did, your guide will point it out – be sure not to walk on it.

Some other animals, seen on only one or two of the islands, will feature in my future entries about our visits to those. Meanwhile though I will continue this overview of the wildlife of the Galápagos in my next entry, with a look at the islands’ birds …

Posted by ToonSarah 01:55 Archived in Ecuador Tagged animals turtles islands lizards wildlife crabs iguanas galapagos seals ecuador sea_lions Comments (2)

Our first landing

Ecuador day ten continued


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North Seymour

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Taking photos on the beach

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The Angelito from North Seymour

As you can imagine, tourism to the Galápagos Islands is very strictly controlled. There are about 60 designated “visitor sites” which you can visit only with an authorised guide. You stick to a marked trail, leaving most of the island free for the animals to enjoy in peace. Some islands have only one visitor site, some have two and the larger ones have multiple sites. Each site is designed to showcase specific scenery, vegetation, and wildlife, although much of the latter can be seen at most locations. And each site will be designated as a “wet” or “dry” landing, depending on whether you have to wade ashore or can step directly on to land (usually a small stone jetty). Before each landing our guide, Fabian, told us what to expect and what footwear would be most suitable (“I recommend you tennis shoes” became something of a catch phrase!) Normally these briefings took place the previous evening but on this occasion we had just boarded the Angelito after landing at Baltra, so our briefing took place as we sailed.

North Seymour was the first island we visited on our Galápagos cruise on the Angelito, on the afternoon of our arrival day. Many cruises do this, as it is very near Baltra where most tourist flights arrive. And it’s a great introduction to the Galápagos! This is one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, less than 2 square kilometres. It is rather flat and was created by an uplift of land rather than, like many of the larger islands, being the eroded top of a volcano.

Landing on North Seymour

The landing here is a dry one, on lava rocks dotted with crabs. Even a small boat like the Angelito can’t moor directly at the island, so to cross to the island we took the pangas or small dinghies. We wore life-jackets every time for these short crossings, putting them on before getting into the dinghies and discarding them in the boat before stepping out on to the shore.

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Rocky shore near the landing place (with swallow-tailed gull)

Once on the rocks we all gathered around Fabian for a first introduction to the island, while the dinghies returned to the Angelito to await his call later to pick us up. This way the landing place is left free for any other groups arriving on the same island. Sometimes we did get an island to ourselves, but inevitably on others there would be more than one group there at a time, so we had to leave room for them to land. But Fabian was quite clever at making sure we didn’t get too caught up in other groups – for instance, we often went the opposite way round a loop trail so that we just passed them at one point!

The lava rocks

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Our first marine iguana

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Lava lizard, North Seymour

The trail on North Seymour is about 2.5 km in length and is rated as moderate/difficult, although as an inexperienced walker with a dodgy knee I didn’t find it too bad! It starts here on the lava rocks by the landing place. This rocky area was a good introduction to some of the wildlife of the Galápagos, as we saw our very first endemic species here, the idiosyncratic marine iguanas. These are the world's only sea-going lizard. They have developed a flattened snout and sharp teeth in order to feed on the algae on the underwater rocks, and can stay submerged for up to ten minutes, before having to come up for air. When not feeding, they are usually found sunning themselves on lava rocks, and this was how we first encountered them here on North Seymour.

We also saw swallow-tailed gulls here (endemic to the Galápagos), and lava lizards, as well as our first Galápagos dove.

On the trail

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Land iguana on North Seymour

From here we headed inland on a rocky trail which took us over mainly flat ground through a forest of grey palo santo trees and opuntia. This is where we saw our first land iguanas, and realised for the first time just how close we could get to the animals here.

There is an interesting story attached to the land iguanas here on North Seymour – a rare example where man’s interference in nature has proved to have a positive consequence. It is told fully in a Galápagos Online blog article, but to summarise:

In the early part of the 20th century neighbouring Baltra (also known as South Seymour) was home to numerous land iguanas, because of its plentiful supplies of opuntia or prickly pear cactus, their favourite food. In the 1930s the members of a scientific expedition noticed that, surprisingly, there were no land iguanas on North Seymour, despite it having even more vegetation. They had already been concerned to note that those on Baltra seemed to be suffering from starvation, so decided to move some to North Seymour. Such interference would normally be deplored, as introducing non-native species can have a disastrous effect, but it turns out to have been providential. In 1943 a military base was established in Baltra, and shortly after the end of the war land iguanas became extinct on that island. The reason for the extinction has been speculated for many years. The military personnel stationed here have been blamed for killing the iguanas for sport, but it seems more likely that the destruction of their natural nesting habitat, through the use of local sand etc. in construction, was to blame, and/or possibly workers from the mainland killing them for their skins.

Whatever the reason, by 1953 there were no more land iguanas on Baltra. The Baltra sub-species would have been extinct, were it not for the population by now thriving on North Seymour. In the 1980s the Galápagos National Park Service captured iguanas on North Seymour and brought them to the Charles Darwin Research Station for a breeding programme. In the 1990s these land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra. Today Baltra has a healthy population of land iguanas that live happily alongside the military base and airport, but they also still remain and thrive on North Seymour.

Bird life

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Palo santo and blue-footed booby

This trail took us through an area full of blue-footed boobies, and also magnificent frigatebirds. I had been looking forward to seeing the former especially, as they seemed to me one of the symbols of the islands, so it was great to see them on this very first landing. Even more exciting, some of them had chicks! Lying so close to the equator, the climate in the Galápagos Islands is relatively stable, and many of the species that breed here do so year round. Here on North Seymour you are likely to see blue-footed boobies with eggs or chicks whenever you visit.

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Blue-footed booby & chick

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Blue-footed booby chick

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Magnificent frigatebird

But it was the magnificent frigatebirds that most attracted my camera – those bulbous red throat displays of the males are pretty hard to ignore! North Seymour is home to the largest nesting site in the archipelago of these well-named “magnificent” birds.

They were sitting in the bushes either side of our path, and many of the males were inflating their scarlet throat pouches, known as "gular pouches", to attract females to mate with them. We saw several groups each vying for the attention of a single female who happened to land in their tree – fascinating to watch and excellent subject-matter for our cameras!

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The female magnificent frigatebird -

Back to the coast

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Sleepy mother sea lion

After a while the trail looped round and returned us to the coast near where we had landed, but further west. The beach here is home to a colony of Galápagos sea lions. It was our first close look at these – and I mean close! We were still learning just how tame the wildlife here could be, and were thrilled at the photo opportunities. We spent a long while here, slowly making our way along the beach and stopping frequently to photograph yet another cute pup. The mothers too looked very photogenic in the golden light of late afternoon. Sea lions typically have just the one pup, and look after it carefully for the first six months of life, so here, as elsewhere on the islands, there were plenty of opportunities to observe the interactions between mum and baby.

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Mothers and pups

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Posing for Chris

As we walked back to our landing point the sun started to sink and we enjoyed some beautiful light for these last photos, with the skin of the sea lions almost golden in colour. There was a lovely sunset over the neighbouring island of Daphne Major. What a wonderful start to our explorations!

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Sunset from North Seymour

Evening on board the Angelito

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Relaxing in the lounge
Geoff and Simon

Once back on board we were able to properly settle into our cabins, before gathering in the lounge area for dinner. This was our first taste (literally!) of the excellent dining we were to enjoy all week – not fancy but very tasty and generous, and especially impressive given the small size of the galley. It was also a chance to start to get to know each other, which we did over a few beers from the honesty supply (note what you take from the bar on the sheet of paper pinned above it and the tally will be totalled at the end of the week). Fabian also delivered the first of his evening briefings, outlining the plans for the next day when we would visit two of the small islands that lie off Santiago – Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) and Bartolomé.

The Angelito spent most of the night moored off North Seymour, before sailing to Sombrero Chino in the early hours of the morning …

Much of the wildlife mentioned above is described in more detail in my previous entries on the animals and bird life of the islands.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:55 Archived in Ecuador Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds islands lizards iguanas galapagos ecuador sea_lions isla_seymour Comments (4)

Walking with lions – and an (unrelated) mishap

Senegal day three


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Walking with lions

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Lioness in a tree, Fathala

While Fathala Lodge might well have appealed to us regardless of the specific activities on offer, there was one thing in particular that really drew us here – an opportunity to walk alongside lions. We both love big cats (and also small ones, come to that!) so this was a must-do as soon as we read about it, and we had signed up as soon as we had arrived yesterday.

We were up and eating breakfast quite early as it's best to do this activity first thing in the morning if staying at the lodge; it is also offered to day trippers from other hotels (including some in Gambia) and thus walks later in the day tend to have more participants. We had booked for the first slot of the day, at 8.15 AM, and were pleased to discover that there were just the two of us on the walk.

The lodge has five lions which live in their own large fenced-off area of the reserve at some distance from the lodge. When we arrived at the reception area we were given a very thorough briefing, as you can imagine. There are a number of rules that you have to follow, which we had been warned about in advance. These include not to wear sunglasses (the lions might be spooked by seeing their own reflections), flapping clothes or animal prints (for obvious reasons!) and not to carry a bag. Of course it is more than fine to bring your camera, and actually a good idea to bring more than one, not only for back up but because a guide will take one and shoot the pictures that you cannot, from the front. This is because another rule stipulates that while walking you must always stay behind the lions, although at photo stops you will be shown where you can stand to take face-on shots, as well as to pose with them. Other rules include not shouting or running.

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Sign by the gate

Having read all the rules, we were asked to sign a waiver form. It was at that point that I did start to wonder if this was such a good idea after all! But I knew that the lions have lived here since they were just three months old, when they were rescued, (they were by now, in February 2016, almost five years old) and have been used to being around people throughout that time. They know the guides and understand the signals they give with their sticks. But they are nevertheless wild animals, to some extent at least, so it was made clear that we were participating at our own risk – but also that in the three years (at that point – now six years) that they have been running this activity there have never been any problems.

My other reservations centred around how the lions were kept. As rescue cubs from (I think) South Africa, I knew that they had grown up in a somewhat unnatural environment (there are no longer any lions in Senegal), and that releasing them into the wild would not be an option. From all I had read prior to our visit I was confident that they are well cared for here, and indeed they appeared to be so. I have read one or two reviewers expressing concerns about the use of sticks, but the reserve has stated clearly that ‘The walking sticks are part of the lions’ training program since they are cubs to adultery (sic) and merely a symbol of respect, none of our lions have ever being beaten. The guides and lion handlers have the utmost love and respect for these lions and will never do anything to harm them.’ From all we saw I believe this to be the case and could see that bond between human and animal in the way the keepers and lions interacted.

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Keeper showing us a lion's claw

So, to our walk … We approached the gate with our guide somewhat cautiously, especially when we saw beyond it the two lions with whom we were to walk. The five lions are taken out for a walk with guests in rotation; we were with Masai, the alpha male, and one of his three sisters. The gate was opened, we walked through with our guide and it was locked behind us – we were committed!

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Masai, the alpha male

In addition to the guide who had briefed us and entered with us, there were three other keepers with the lions, all of whom came along on the walk. We followed a path clearly known to the lions, who went on ahead. We were not so much walking with lions as following them at close quarters, but that was fine with us. To see the movement of the muscles in these magnificent creatures as they stroll long gave me a strong sense of their power. Their golden fur glowed in the early morning sun, and occasionally they would look back at us as if to check we were still there. A couple of times the female wandered a little way into the trees to the side of the path, but each time soon rejoined her brother. One of the keepers had taken Chris’s spare camera and shot a great little video of us all as we walked:

When we reached a small group of trees the lions stopped. I got the impression that they had been taught to do so, although maybe they just wanted a rest.

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The male lion

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Lioness licking for salt

This was an opportunity for more and better photos, and the keepers showed us how we could get closer and exactly where to stand, as well as taking some photos of us with the lions. By the way, some old reviews mention being able to touch the lions but that was only when they were young cubs – it is very definitely not allowed now they are bigger!

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With the lions

The lioness seemed to know that we wanted to get good photos. First she had a good stretch and scratched at one of the trees, then she climbed it and posed beautifully on a branch.

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The lioness

All too soon though we were given the signal to turn back to the gate, still following the lions. Our 50 minutes had gone really quickly and now we had to say goodbye to the lions, who went off to their run with their three escorts while our guide walked us back to Fathala's day centre where our jeep was waiting. What a memorable experience it had been!!

And now for the mishap!

We returned to the lodge for lunch and, with no further activities booked for today, were looking forward to a relaxing afternoon and a dip in the plunge pool. Although choices for dinner here are limited, at lunch time you can choose from a menu of lighter dishes, and both of us opted for a burger. We sat on the deck enjoying our meal and keeping an eye open for any animals who might come along to the water hole for a drink. None did, but we enjoyed watching the antics of a troop of Patas Monkeys in the trees beyond.

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Patas Monkeys

Halfway through our meal, however, I felt what I thought was a small piece of bone from the burger in my mouth, but it wasn’t – a large part of one of my teeth had come away as I ate!

While I didn’t feel any pain, I was concerned that I could do so if I continued to eat with it, and also that we were heading deeper into Senegal in a couple of days and would be even further from ‘civilisation’ (aka dentists!) than we were here. So I spoke to the (French) lodge manager and she called for her assistant, who was from Banjul and therefore almost local, to advise. He proved to be hugely helpful. He told us that his neighbour back in Banjul was a dentist, trained in France (which I found reassuring), and should be able to provide at least temporary treatment. I agreed that he should call his neighbour, which he did, and arranged an appointment for me the next morning – great. Now all I had to do was get to Banjul and then back to the lodge afterwards. This was where the manager herself came to my aid. She arranged a car to take us and a guide to go with us, and said we could just pay half of the usual transfer fee in order to cover their costs, which we were happy to agree to.

With all of these plans made there was nothing more that I could do today, so we resumed our original plan of a relaxing afternoon. This was enlivened by a bit of excitement from the tent next to ours. The occupants were a couple from Belgium, with whom we’d had a brief chat the previous evening along with the English mother and daughter and two older English women, friends travelling together. This afternoon on returning to our tent we saw the two Belgian guys standing outside theirs, looking concerned, and several of the lodge staff going inside as if to look for something. Had one of the snakes we’d been warned about somehow got into the tent, we wondered? But no – when we called across to ask what the problem was we were told they had a mouse visiting the tent and eating the sugar from the sachets provided for tea- and coffee-making, and had called on the staff to evict their unwanted guest.

Later that evening it became clear that the staff had been unsuccessful in their mission, as the guys had moved to another tent further down the row. Chris and I were rather amused that two grown guys had been chased out by a tiny mouse, and also were inclined to believe that a mouse could easily visit any of the tents, including ours and the one to which they had moved. And although we never did see a mouse here at Fathala, we were to be forcibly reminded of this incident, and our reaction to it, at our next lodge!

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Enjoying the pool

After the minor excitement of the ‘mouse in the tent’ incident we reverted to our plan of relaxing on the deck. I had a dip in the pool (a broken tooth wasn’t going to stop me enjoying the water!) and we spent some time watching for wildlife at the waterhole. And while the white rhino continued to elude us, we did see some waterbucks, various birds and a large lizard which joined us on the deck for a while.

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Lizard on the decking

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Waterbuck

Our leisurely afternoon was followed by a pleasant evening – I even managed to eat some dinner, albeit very gingerly!

We went to bed still buzzing about the morning walk with the lions, but in my case at least conscious that tomorrow morning could be a lot less pleasant!

Posted by ToonSarah 02:01 Archived in Senegal Tagged monkeys lizards wildlife africa lions senegal big_cats Comments (10)

To market, to market

Senegal day ten


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Muted sunrise, Souimanga Lodge

Sunrise this morning was a more muted affair, with more cloud cover, but still lovely.

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Muted sunrise, Souimanga Lodge

At breakfast I spotted a Yellow Crowned Gonolek, one of the most dramatically coloured of Senegal’s birds. Unfortunately he wasn’t too keen on staying still long enough for me to photograph him, so my efforts were a little disappointing – but worth sharing so you can see how smart he looks in his black, red and yellow plumage!

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Not very good photos of a Yellow Crowned Gonolek!

Ngueniene general market

This was our last full day at Souimanga Lodge and our last outing with Cheikh. As on previous mornings he picked us up soon after breakfast, but this time headed not towards the coast to our west but instead drove north. It took us about thirty minutes to reach Ngueniene, a village well-known in this region for its weekly Wednesday markets.

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On the way to market

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This would be a fairly unremarkable village were it not for the huge scale of its weekly market, which draws locals from miles around – and more than a few tourists. As we drove towards the village with Cheikh we could see many others on the roads, mostly in the traditional horse carts, all converging on this one spot – the women colourfully dressed as always here, and some carts piled high with produce to sell.

We parked on the outskirts of the village and walked along a few lanes between the houses to reach the main market, which was already a hubbub of activity.

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Market day in Ngueniene

The market draws people from miles around – to buy or to sell, but also, it seemed to me, to meet and gossip. A visit here is a popular outing for tourists, but still they are hugely outnumbered by the locals and it is a totally authentic experience.

In fact there are two markets here – one for animals and one for everything else – and I mean everything! We started our explorations in this general market and among many other things, we found for sale the following:

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Pots for sale

~ fruit and vegetables
~ cooking pots and tripods on which to stand them
~ tools - large knives, penknives, wire-cutters, screw drivers
~ tobacco, and tiny metal pipes in which to smoke it
~ cola nuts, which Cheikh assured Chris were as good as Viagra!
~ colourful traditional fabrics sold by the metre
~ heaps of second-hand clothes imported from Europe
~ trainers, flip-flops and gym shoes
~ (poor) replica football strips - mainly Barcelona and the big names of the English Premier League
~ live chickens
~ dried fish
~ baobab fruit, hibiscus flowers and other juice flavourings
~ herbs and spices
~ mobile phones and accessories
~ children's toys
~ huge sacks of grain and rice
~ little fried millet balls, a bit like churros, which Cheik bought for us to sample
~ colourful woven baskets
~ pottery bowls and other objects
~ animal feed

We saw only a few tourist-oriented stalls - one selling sand paintings and wood carvings and a couple with simple jewellery (I bought a bead necklace for 1,000 CFA - about £1). I also bought two metres of one of the fabrics, to make up into a sarong or skirt (although it is still sitting in a drawer at home, untouched, three years later!). This cost 2,000 CFA, after some hard bargaining by Cheikh.

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A range of goods on sale!

As well as helping us to get good prices for our shopping (Chris also bought some new earphones for his MP3 player after our unfortunate encounter with the mouse!), Cheikh insisted on buying various snacks for us to try – not all of which looked appetising! The little fried balls of millet dough were a bit like Senegalese churros, I guess, but rather dry inside and tasteless. I turned down the proffered cup of tea, not being a tea drinker, but enjoyed tasting a fruit, Saba Senegalensis, which Cheikh called madd, its Wolof name. This consists of a large seed which we sucked to eat the pleasantly sharp (to my taste) fruit around it.

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Friendly stall-holder

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Stall-holders


I found that I had to be a little discreet to get my photos here. Most people didn't mind me photographing the goods on sale, and some of the men were happy to be in my photos, but on the whole the women preferred not to be photographed. If they asked me not to, I put the camera down, but I have to admit to shooting a few of these pictures ‘from the hip’!

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Shoppers at the market

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The animal market

After spending some time in the main market, we moved on to the animal market on the other side of the village, travelling between the two on a traditional horse cart. Here there is a much narrower range of goods on offer – just goats, sheep, cows, donkeys and horses. Until very recently, Cheikh told us, all business was done here by exchange – two goats for one sheep, five sheep for one cow and so on. Nowadays people are more likely to use cash, but some trading still goes on.

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In the animal market

Cheikh was keen to point out the best animals, especially in the area devoted to cows, and a little disappointed I think that our untrained eyes were not very good at judging them (it’s not a skill much called-for in urban London!) He was firm in his belief that you should never buy a fully-grown well-fattened cow, but instead look for one that was basically sound and healthy, but which would benefit from feeding up. That way you could sell it on for a profit.

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In the animal market

While the men we saw were obviously here to sell, it also seemed to me to be a great excuse for them to catch up with friends as there was a lot of standing around chatting going on. I found that they were more relaxed and generally seemed less bothered by my camera than in the busy main market.

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Traders and buyers in the animal market

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Final afternoon with the birds

After a quick swim back at the lodge we spent the rest of the afternoon split between our deck, where a friendly lizard came to visit, and in our private little hide on the jetty.

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Lizard by the plunge pool

This was one of the best spells of bird sightings I had on the whole trip, and I got some of my favourite photos. It didn’t start too well in terms of the latter as, while I was thrilled to see a Beautiful Sunbird (his official name, but yes, he is indeed beautiful!) I failed to get a decent photo – this one has been heavily processed as his colours were invisible against the light in the original.

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Beautiful Sunbird
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But it got better. A Pied Kingfisher joined me at the hide and posed happily for ages.

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Pied Kingfisher

And just as I was thinking of packing up and going back to join Chris who had returned to our deck to read a little while earlier, I happened to look up and see a Little Bee Eater on a branch above my head. He was soon joined by what I assumed was his mate – male and female Little Bee Eaters have the same plumage. Both remained long enough for me to get a number of photos, which remain among my favourite bird photos of all those I have taken, on this trip and elsewhere.

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Little Bee Eaters

Another sunbird, this time I think a Pigmy Sunbird, also appeared while I was still lingering enjoying the Little Bee Eaters. My photos were only marginally more successful than those of the Beautiful Sunbird, but it gives me an excuse to mention that the lodge is named for the French for sunbird, Souimanga, as the birds regularly frequent its gardens. Having seen none all week, now here were two in one day!

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Pigmy Sunbird (I think)

Other sightings this afternoon included a couple of Senegal Thick-Knees as well as the usual egrets, herons etc.

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Senegal Thick-Knee

We spent our final evening at Souimanga as we had the others, with drinks and a leisurely dinner by candlelight on the decks above the lagoon.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:42 Archived in Senegal Tagged people animals birds lizards market shopping village africa customs senegal Comments (9)

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